My family loves Christmas. We enjoy decorating our home, not least with a tree adorned with beautiful ornaments. Over the years, we’ve acquired quite a collection of Christmas ornaments. Each one tells a story, reminding us of meaningful experiences and significant people throughout our lives. One ornament, the product of a first-grade Sunday school class, brings up happy childhood memories. Another ornament, a small rendition of Edinburgh Castle, prompts joyful reflection on a rich season of life when my wife and I lived in Scotland. Near that one hangs an ornament given to us by beloved family members who’ve since departed this valley of tears for a better country. As we hang these sentimental ornaments on the tree, they invite us to take a walk down memory lane. They also remind us of God’s unwavering goodness, mercy, and faithfulness in Christ.

However, there is one ornament in our collection that, more than all the others, stirs our affections. The ornament is in the shape of an eight-inch iron spike, like those used by Roman soldiers to nail Jesus to the cross. Before we place it on the tree, our family tradition is for each of us hold it for a few moments as I recount the true meaning of Christmas.

Worship Christ the newborn baby
Born to die upon the tree
Thorns and nails will one day pierce Him,
Bearing wrath to set us free.

Jesus was born and placed in a manger in Bethlehem so that one day He would die on a wooden cross in Jerusalem. The soft, tiny hands that clung to the Virgin Mary would one day be pierced through by sharp iron spikes. The infant brow tenderly caressed by Joseph would years later be brutally punctured by a crown of thorns. Newborn tears would in the future give way to soul-wrenching cries of anguish at Gethsemane and Calvary. Here’s the point: Christmas cannot be truly understood apart from the cross. Our meditations on the cradle must always find their way to the cross.

God sent His eternal Son into the world to be more than just a good example or a wise teacher. God sent Him to perfectly fulfill the requirements of the law, and then, as a righteous substitute, satisfy God’s justice on Calvary. Christ bore God’s wrath on the cursed tree, not for His own guilt but for yours and mine. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities . . . and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). This is why Jesus came— to rescue us from what our sins deserve.

Therefore, as you consider Jesus’ birth this Advent season, don’t forget about the cross. Jesus was born to die. May this truth stir up new measures of love, wonder, and praise this special time of year.

Now all those who love and fear Him
Saved by grace through faith alone
Kneel in humble adoration
At His manger, at His throne.